Thursday, October 9, 2014

Seoraksan National Park

Last Friday was a Korean national holiday (Founder's Day), which meant that we had a long weekend to take advantage of.  I think I had this long weekend marked off in my mind since last spring as the time I wanted to go see Seoraksan National Park.  Why did I want to go there? Just do a quick Google image search and you can see for yourself--Seoraksan is Korea's most famous national park because it's absolutely beautiful.  Seoraksan is located in Gangwondo, a particularly difficult to reach province in the northern part of the country.  Since Seoraksan is difficult to get to from Jeomchon, I knew that is was a trip that required a long weekend.  There's no better time to hike than in the fall, so when it came time to make plans for the long weekend I convinced my friend Tony to come along with me for an adventure to some of Korea's most famous mountains.

Tony had a class Thursday night, so we left Jeomchon at 6:40 AM Friday morning.  My online research told me that buses to Sokcho (the town next to Seoraksan) left from Seoul every 30 minutes.  We thought we would catch a bus around 9-9:30 and arrive in Seoraksan by the early afternoon.  Well, things didn't turn out that way.  We arrived in Seoul around 8:30, but when we went to buy our bus tickets we were told there was nothing available until 11:30.  What?!  Apparently we weren't the only ones planning on going to Seoraksan over the long weekend.

With no other option, we bought the bus tickets and waited around Seoul's Express Bus Terminal until our departure time.

Once we got on the bus it was supposed to be a 2 1/2-3 hour bus ride to Sokcho.  Well, again it didn't work this way.  The traffic leaving Seoul was absolutely horrendous and we moved slowly pretty much the entire time.  In the end, our bus ride was about 5 1/2 hours.  Needless to say, we were happy when we finally arrived in Sokcho.  By that point it was already evening, which killed our original plan to get some hiking in on Friday. Instead, we found a place to stay and got some dinner.  There wasn't a whole lot to do in Sokcho, but we got some food and watched a bit of TV in our room before heading to bed somewhat early.

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to head to Seoraksan.  Again, we realized just how many people had the same idea as us to go to Seoraksan over the long weekend because the traffic heading to the park was outrageous, even with the somewhat damp weather.

Once we got to the park there were floods of people, but we kept to our plan to hike Ulsanwabi.  This is one of the most difficult trails in Seoraksan National Park, and while Tony was convinced we HAD to do this trail, I was a bit afraid after reading about it and talking to some friends who had done the same trail in the past.  All I read/heard about was how it was SO steep and scary.  I was also worried because I'm not exactly in the best shape, but Tony is an exercise enthusiast who enjoys running for miles and miles each day.  Throw in the drizzly weather and I was somewhat convinced I was going to die on this trail.

As we made our way to the trail we saw a huge Buddha and a temple, as you come to expect when hiking in Korea.    
Everything is cute in Korea...even monks on signs for temples.

Huge Buddha.

We continued on the trail, which in the beginning wasn't bad at all.  The trail got steeper as we continued, and eventually just became stairs.  Lots and lots of stairs.  This actually isn't uncommon when hiking in Korea, but while there are often stairs along trails in Korea, I've never experienced THIS many.  It was exhausting, but I have to say the dozens of reviews I read about this trail set my expectations really high.  When it got tough I kept telling myself (and Tony) that we weren't really at the difficult part yet--that it was going to get even harder and the worst was yet to come.

However, I was shocked when we reached one platform and suddenly we were at the top.  I literally said "Wait....this is the top?! Really? That was it?!"

The trail was difficult and exhausting, but not what I was expecting. It took us just over two hours to get to the top, so it's not the length of the trail that is difficult, it's just the fact that it's really steep for the majority of the time.  However, the view was awesome, even though it was really cloudy.

After resting for a bit at the top (actually there were two different points to go to), we made our way back down.  Although my legs were tired when we go to the top, but the time we got back to the bottom my legs were really shaking.  Since it was only around 1:00 by that point, we had planned on taking the cable car to another part of the mountain.

We saw a long line by the cable cars in the morning, but we figured those people were waiting to go up then.  We thought it worked like a ride--you wait in line then get on the next available one when it's your turn.  Well, once again it wasn't what we expected.  Instead, you had to buy your ticket ahead of time and go back at your assigned time.  Since it was a crazy holiday weekend, by the time we got to the ticket office the day was completely sold out.

With that plan ruined, we decided to go back to Sokcho and see if we could get an earlier bus back to Seoul.  Tony had a paper to write for his grad class, so he needed all the time he could get on Sunday to get some work done.

Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for a bus back to Seoul.  While we thought that surely this time our bus ride would be much shorter, it was just as bad on the way back to Seoul.  Again, it took over five hours from Sokcho to Seoul.  We were less than excited about this, but luckily we didn't have to wait long for a bus back to Jeomchon once we arrived to Seoul.

We arrived back home around 10:30, at which point I stumbled back into my apartment and eagerly jumped into bed.

Overall, this weekend definitely didn't go as I thought it would.  I thought we would have way more time to do more hiking and exploring around the park, but sometimes you just can't plan for these things.  I'm really glad we did get to see some of the park because it was absolutely beautiful. I'm already thinking of returning on another long weekend in the spring.  I would love to Seoraksan again in some sunnier weather and at a time when there are less people!

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